Businesses’ clean energy, EV plans limited by government
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Companies are increasingly acquiring and investing in renewable and efficient energy, but as connected and complex a resource and system as energy is, truly impactful innovations cannot be achieved alone. Energy-ambitious businesses know this and are forming partnerships with states, cities, utilities, and other companies, but with the absence of U.S. leadership on this issue, it’s still not enough. 

Their success is still impeded by things out of their control: our nation’s aging energy infrastructure, antiquated regulations, retraction of federal research money, and new and damaging industry tariffs and tax laws. The most recent example is the administration’s budget, detailing a proposed decimation of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) alternative energy project budget. While the DOE claims the cuts reflect success with technology such as electric vehicles (EVs), they are a significant blow to states working for a stronger economy and labor market for citizens; utilities aiming to reliably provide energy to citizens and businesses however they need it; and businesses fighting for global market share while meeting customer demand amidst a changing economy.

In particular, the yet-emerging EV industry has prompted global stakeholder collaboration, resulting in the opportunity for engaged nations to guide worldwide innovation and set industry standards. Perhaps in part due to America’s own loosening emissions criteria, U.S. companies are working with foreign nations to establish new global industry standards. Spurred by mounting market opportunity and competition, advancing technology and rising foreign emissions standards, global automakers have now invested nearly $100 billion in EVs.

Even traditional energy companies such as Royal Dutch Shell are preparing for the changed energy sector, spending at least $400 million on the future energy economy in recent weeks, including EV charging stations, and – to power anticipated future EV growth – gas, the least polluting fossil fuel.

Companies not considered power-related are even getting involved to find mutually-beneficial feasibility solutions. Tesla partnered with Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, and UPS to build on-site charging terminals in their facilities for its prototyped electric truck, addressing the issue of keeping the rigs powered.

Meanwhile, utilities and states are eagerly doing whatever is within their limited power to facilitate this industry’s maturation and enable their citizens to benefit. Michigan’s two largest utilities are working with automakers on public education, creating guiding principles, and encouraging and expanding EV sales and charging stations. States including CaliforniaColoradoMaryland, and New Hampshire are forming, considering, and executing proposals to broadly expand EV charging stations, even creating charging networks and international charging corridors. Not only do these projects address the rapidly degrading grid, but they pose huge regional and local economic boosts: creating jobs and fostering manufacturing, innovation, and community happiness and health.

These are all fantastic signs of industry growth, but there’s a really big “but” here.

Regardless of these initiatives, the reality is that effective federal action is as critical to this industry as it is to all others. Yet the White House budget would raise funding the DOE’s for fossil fuel and nuclear energy research whilst cutting alternative energy funding by 65 percent, including massive cuts to electric vehicle research and the elimination of programs such as those that aid transportation infrastructure investments. Additionally, new U.S. tax law enables the federal EV tax credit to phase out on certain U.S. automakers this year, placing them at an enormous competitive disadvantage, particularly to foreign companies.

However the ultimate problem for all new energy technology is the state of our nation’s electric grid. Without significant and comprehensive upgrades, the grid will not be able to handle the capacity needed as the demand for electric vehicles – or even solar or wind power – grows, and there’s only so much that can be done without federal support. The Edison Electric Institute and the Institute for Electric Innovation forecast that 5 million charging ports will be needed to accommodate the 7 million electric vehicles predicted to be on the road by the end of 2025.

This is just the beginning of EV technology but it’s already reshaping all business sectors. The problem isn’t that our nation is unable to seize this remarkable opportunity for economic growth, global leadership, and individual quality of life: it’s that our federal government doesn’t seem to want to. As companies such as GM call for grid transformation to empower our businesses, secure, and modernize our power supply and fuel our economy with job growth, the copper industry stands with them. We ask that when Congress negotiates our nation’s budget, they leave room for electric vehicles and grid modernization so American innovation, businesses, and opportunities may flourish.

Zolaikha Strong is the Director of Sustainable Energy at the Copper Development Association (CDA) – which represents more than 80 percent of North America’s copper miners, fabricators, and manufacturers – as well as a leader on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (REEAC) – which advises the secretary of Commerce on how to increase the exportability of American renewable energy and energy efficient products and services.